Tag Archives: WWII

A Soldier’s Lesson

Dateline November 11th, 2016

by Colonel Zolton Krompecher
Behind newspaper headlines proclaiming the divisiveness of America are obituaries that may surprise readers when they learn of celebrities, artists and athletes who once served in uniform. Lee Marvin, Gene Wilder, Rod Serling, Leonard Nimoy, Bea Arthur, J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, Joe Lewis, Harriet Tubman, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams wore the uniform. Among living veterans are Ice-T, James Earl Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman, Drew Carey, Dennis Franz, and Charles Osgood. The realization they served in the military is not so far-fetched. Writers and musicians tell stories through pen and notes while actors assume a character’s role, and military service provides a lifetime of experience. Service also reminds us that Americans share more in common than papers would lead us to believe.

When I hear the word “veteran,” I think of my Grandpa Austin.
No title preceded my grandpa’s name, nor was he a celebrity, just a man from a region of Appalachia that was largely white, protestant, and poor: a place where people scratched out livings on hell’s half acre by farming spits of land, mining coal and doing what it took to put food in bellies. It is where dirt roads and creeks bisect fields and everything is walled off by the hills. When war called, he went because he believed in America…even if he didn’t always agree with the politics.

Private Austin Davis was a member of the Red Ball Express, a unit comprised mainly of black Soldiers who risked their lives providing supplies and medicine to keep the living from joining the dying. Many, no doubt, felt the sting of Jim Crow but still served. Despite faults, they must have recognized America’s potential to change was worth the fight.

I don’t believe my grandpa saw himself as a minority, because Soldiers share in the communion of placing the collective above self. Together they are introduced to barking drill sergeants who turn worlds upside down. Drill Sergeants understand how duress teaches recruits that green is the only color that matters and that long days at the range, forced marches, and waking up in open bays with all of humanity instills compromise when sharing four toilets, six showerheads and eight sinks (not all operable). Unlike college or civilian life, one can’t drop a class or quit when life becomes uncomfortable. Success is found in teamwork.

Friendships are further refined when sharing cups of coffee out of canteen cups during German winters or swapping stories of home and dreams for tomorrow in deserts and jungles, drop zones or ships located far from land. A lot can pass in conversation during a long night’s guard duty. That’s when redemption arrives in the form of lifelong friendships tempered by fire and loneliness.
My grandma gave me the map my grandpa carried with him Europe along with a list of the names and addresses of the men in his platoon.

Life pushed those Soldiers in different directions, but they returned to the farms, factories and classrooms and witnessed the Civil Rights movement and integration of the military and organized sport. Some watched the first black man take the inaugural oath, evidence that America was worth fighting for then and still is today. Soldiers know the value of subsisting on endurance and faith when times get tough. In a wisp, they were gone from each other’s lives in 1945, as if God placed them together to teach them that all men bleed and all our brothers, especially when tomorrow seems a distant dream.
Some veterans advertise service through bumper stickers and apparel. Others are more private, placing dog tags in keepsake boxes or hanging uniforms in attics, but place two veterans from different generations and socio-economic backgrounds in a doctor’s waiting room and listen. Chances are you’ll hear stories of basic training or serving in the same unit (or post) years apart.

We don’t all support the same political party or celebrate the same faith, but veterans understand that selfless service—whether in uniform or otherwise—is the kindling that stokes democracy and gives light in a world sometimes threatened by the darkness of entitlement and ignorance.

My grandpa arrived home from the war and moved to the city where he returned from work every night to a house on the corner. Later he witnessed white flight. Like a good soldier he remained at his post, living out his days as one of the few white families in the neighborhood. I remember him on the front porch swing, waving and talking about the Buckeyes with folks in the neighborhood. I learned more on that front porch than I ever did in any classroom.
I also learned that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers.

Colonel Krompecher remains on active duty and keeps in touch with Soldiers he met thirty years ago while being “introduced” to Drill Sergeant Posey.

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Don

by Marine1948

It’s 0447 hours here in Northwestern Massachusetts and as I look across the street I see the lights on in the dwelling of a silent hero.

Don is an old “China Marine”. He enlisted in the Corps in 1937 with duty on the Asian Mainland.

His enlistment should have been up in December of 1941 and then Pearl Harbor. All were told that their enlistments would be extended indefinitely.

Throughout the next 4 years Don slugged through campaigns in the Pacific on islands with the infamous names recorded in the annals of the Corps: Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima all with the 3rd Marine Division.

Don returned to his hometown in 1945 and went to work immediately. Met a woman and married her and raised his children. Still ever the duty bound man, he served with the town’s volunteer fire department and forest wardens until time caught up.

I came to know him probably at some point in the 70s. And as fate would have it, I moved in across the street from him the early 80s. Strange that 34 years have passed so quickly.

To say that I have been in awe of this man seems so inadequate. I have observed him through this many years do things that a man half his age couldn’t accomplish.

You see, Don will be 96 next month. Here is someone who has cut his grass, shoveled snow and so many tasks I can’t recall. And he still does! When the humidity is so high that even nature’s creatures don’t stir, he cuts the grass fully clothed. When the wind chill would scare an Eskimo, the snow is removed. And not uncommon for him to use his snow blower to help much younger neighbors.

He stands tall and straight. His hearing and eyesight remain intact. Ah, he still has a full set of his own teeth. Amazing!

There is the common denominator that we possess, that being MARINE. It is a bond that never leaves us. No matter the era from which we rose.

A common greeting is, “Do ya think we still could make it through Parris Island?” And the chuckles come.

I look at him and think that he is 5 years my dad’s senior, also a WWII man.

Don gave up his driver’s license a few months ago, as he said, “It’s time.” Now I observe him after he cuts his grass sitting in the backyard in a chair looking at the sky. I can only imagine the thoughts.

Don doesn’t ask much, but every now and then I bring him a package of Oreos, an enjoyment of his. It seems so small and insignificant for someone of his stature. But it brings a smile and a thank you.

On the holidays that are appropriate for the display, I put out my Marine Corps flag and then watch across the street, sure enough, Don follows suit.

Someday Don will enter Valhalla and the Valkyries will bring him the nightly feast joined by and in brotherhood by all other warriors.

I salute you, Don. Semper Fi! And God bless you and America.

“marine1948” Bishop, HG Jr
Sgt., USMC, 2322500 1967-forever

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The Foxhole

By Silent Warrior 6

As they came of age between 1940 and 1943, the five Smith brothers left their town in Indiana for places that most had never heard of. They volunteered to jump out of planes, crouch in machine gun nests and ride in plywood gliders. They survived diphtheria and gunshot wounds, burrowing into the earth or under trucks at night so they could sleep through the shelling. Their family had nothing but hope and prayers to bring them home. And one by one, the five Smith brothers, dozens of war decorations among them, came home – exhausted but whole. All five brothers lived long into retirement and all but one is living today today. A 4th brother, Kenneth “Kenny” Ray Smith, died on 1 April 2016 in Washington, Indiana at the age of 92.

Kenny’s story is unique. With the advent of World War II, he volunteered to serve the Army and our Nation. He was a 75mm Howitzer Sergeant assigned to the 681st Glider Field Artillery Battalion and attached to 82nd Airborne Division. He fought and survived behind the front lines in Sicily, Normandy and Holland. He served also in North Africa, Italy, France, Bulgaria and Germany. He earned six European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medals with six bronze stars and one bronze arrowhead. After returning home from the war he married and raised four sons in Southern Indiana.

Kenny fought at Normandy, one of the bloodiest battles of the 20th century. Just before D-Day, he sent a telegram to his mom, saying, “Mother, pray for us boys, we need God now.” Later, Kenny described his task on D-Day as a “suicide mission”. Remarkably, Kenny’s plywood-and-canvas glider (AKA flying coffin) landed “successfully” by crashing into a tree, ripping through the branches as the nose hit the dirt. Unconscious for the next several hours and separated from his crew, Kenny linked up positively with his team later the next day.

Surviving six campaigns in WWII and earning a bronze arrowhead for a combat glider landing requires trust in God and discipline. I visited with Kenny last summer and asked him simply, “how did you survive?” Without hesitation, the old Soldier responded, “I always dug a foxhole.” Standing tall at 6 feet, 8 inches – digging a foxhole to standard was not a quick easy task for Kenny. He jokingly added, “one or two Soldiers always ended up in my foxhole with me because they lacked the discipline to dig their own day after day in combat”. Kenny’s “foxhole” message is both simple and genius. “Always improve your foxhole” is one of the first orders I received as an Infantry enlisted Soldier in training. It was my honor to share Kenny’s message with the Soldiers assigned to my Battalion a few weeks ago, his message was received well by the entire formation. The key task assigned to the Nation’s current generation of Soldiers is simple —– improve your foxhole and deliver RESULTS that benefit the Nation, our Army’s Mission, our Soldiers and their Families.

 

 

 

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Tribute

Farewell to an Old Soldier by LTC (P) Zoltan “Z” Krompecher 

Being an Army family means that my wife and children have accepted the requirement to move often: every one to three years we pack our worldly possessions and move to a new location, each one unique in its own way. This lifestyle has led to wonderful relationships, and we look back fondly on the friendship made with a family from Kalamazoo. Recently, the Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo community said goodbye to a man who spent most of his life serving as a natural ambassador to the university, the Army, and the community. He was a friend to many.

In my first week as the Professor of Military Science at Western Michigan University (WMU), a time when I was still trying to figure out where to park, a gentleman with a Soldier’s stature walked into my office and introduced himself as Herb Kenz. A comfortable conversation ensued between two soldiers who, following combat, found academia a welcome environment. Herb shared childhood tales of growing up in Saint Ignace, his journey to war, and the courtship of Jean, the woman who captured his heart.

Following high school, life pushed Herb out of the quietude of the U.P. and into a world broken from war. As a soldier in occupied Japan he guarded Emperor Hirohito and became part of the healing process between former enemies. Five years later, he stared war in the face in Korea. These experiences must have led him to believe the world could be a better place, because he came home to Michigan and Jean (staying in the Army reserves) and decided to help others through teaching, but what I remember most about Herb and Jean was the way they “adopted” WMU ROTC cadets.

ROTC cadets generally represent a variety backgrounds but are united in the hope of one day commissioning as Army officers. They are the great “unwashed” who arrive on campus nervous and apprehensive. To temper their anxiety, Herb and other WMU ROTC Alumni, along with spouses, show up on the first day to grill food, share stories, answer questions, and make newly arrived students feel welcome: a shining example of generations passing hands.

Herb had a warm smile and easy approach which helped cadets see past temporary discomfort by understanding the world is worth getting up for in the morning, even at 0530 to run in the Michigan cold. Through their efforts, the WMU ROTC alumni formed strong bonds with the cadets. They helped the cadets press on towards the finish line together. They made it, and somewhere along the line they discovered each other and themselves. With every new class of cadets, Herb never lost that smile or the warmth that enveloped those of us lucky enough to know him. After graduating, many cadets entered the army ingrained with the lessons of camaraderie that Herb and his ilk helped teach them. Many of these young officers return to campus to impart these same lessons onto new generations of cadets.

Perhaps the deepest lesson Herb taught us, one not found in an Army manual, was not to return to the ordinariness of our lives because faith, family and the greater good are more important than oneself. He loved Jean, their children, his students and WMU. He loved Michigan.

For a time, Herb and Jean participated in Community Theater. It makes sense, because he could adapt to any environment. In the end, it was as if he needed a larger stage, so he left the spotlight to be with Jean.

Last month, alumni and students of WMU gathered in Saint Augustine’s to pay tribute to Herb. Lieutenant Colonel (Retried) John Colburn held roll-call by calling out the names of present service members, each one responding with, “Here, Sir!” When they got to Herb’s name there was no response. Second passed and then a 21-gun salute was fired following by a lonely trumpet playing Taps to honor the kind soul of a man who never really grew old.

I arrived to Kalamazoo knowing nobody, and then Herb showed up.

 

 

 

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